The narrow, descending mountain trail had become a sadist, reveling in the torture it inflicted on Cory Vaquera’s blistered feet and aching knees,
or so it seemed. The rest of his joints hadn’t fared well either, but what else can a three-hundred-and-twenty pound man expect after such a hike?
The dead weight of the bulky, black Sony camcorder hanging from a sling on his shoulder only added to the burden. At least his tattered, green daypack
had held up - though his lunch, consisting of a foot-long turkey sub, Twinkies, and Gatorade, had been consumed hours ago.
God he was hungry!
Cory brushed the long, black strands of sweat soaked hair away from his eyes. Even at five-thirty in the afternoon the temperature held above ninety,
and the humidity was getting even worse, causing the fabric of his gray shorts and tan, cotton t-shirt to cling to his damp skin. Stupid, the whole
idea was just stupid, and to think he’d skipped work to do it! Now he’d probably get fired, this being the fourth time in a month he’d called in
sick from his telemarketing gig, just to prove a bunch of skeptics wrong.
He shifted the camcorder to his other shoulder, his chest heaving with labored breaths as he trudged along the dirty, dusty trail. The dense, redwood
forest loomed around him, blotting out the rays of the setting sun. Nightfall was approaching, but Cory recognized the bubbling sound of the stream up
ahead; the plywood bridge that crossed it was only minutes away. Beyond that lay the parking lot and his used Volvo. Cory cursed himself; he
could’ve been back hours ago, if only he hadn’t been so stubborn - if only it hadn’t been so stubborn. Stupid drone!
Had he been wrong to assume it would appear again? He’d seen the damned thing yesterday, if only for a few seconds, buzzing overhead like some
weird, alien kite. Today he’d returned fully prepared, camcorder at the ready, and what had his efforts gotten him? Nothing! Maybe he should have
spent the afternoon back at the campsite, where he’d seen it before, but hiking to the top of Mt. Tamalpais had seemed like a better idea, given the
miles of visibility the vantage point provided.
Oh how he’d wanted to capture the drone on film, to prove them wrong! A clever hoax, they’d called it, but Cory had never believed it was the work
of some Photoshop prankster. That thing was real, and yesterday he’d seen it with his own two eyes. But that was yesterday; tonight he’d be
returning home tired, hungry and un-employed.
Stupid, stupid drone!
Upon reaching the bridge, Cory leaned against the sturdy railing to rest his bulky frame. He let the camcorder slide down his arm onto the wooden
planks, and then allowed his daypack to do the same, before sinking down to a sitting position, his leg muscles burning from exhaustion. Scattered
rays of orange sunlight shone through the redwood branches, illuminating the moss-covered logs and boulders that lined the stream below. He unzipped
the daypack and pulled forth the bottle of Gatorade – about an ounce of the yellow liquid remained, sloshing around inside. Before Cory could bring
the mouth of the bottle to his lips, he found himself swatting at what sounded like an insect buzzing about his head. What was it, a fly? A bee,
perhaps? He couldn’t see the damn thing, and then it dawned on him what was making the humming noise. It was the drone!
With trembling hands he snatched the camera, removed the lens cap, and pressed RECORD. Peering through the eyepiece, he directed the camera upward,
focusing through the tree limbs overhead. The seven-foot-long winged drone was just like in the pictures - he could even make out the bizarre, cryptic
lettering underneath: characters that looked as if they belonged to some strange, alien alphabet.
“Yes! Yes!” Cory chuckled with glee, “Come to Papa!” Just as he zoomed in on the odd lettering, the drone shifted direction and zipped beyond
the tree-line, out of view. “No, not yet!” He scrambled to his feet, hefted the camcorder onto his shoulder, and briefly took note of his daypack
which lay on the bridge. “Screw it” he said, and bolted back down the trail after the drone, leaving the pack behind.
“My name is Cory Vaquera!” he panted into the camera’s microphone. “Today is August 31st., 2007, and I’m at Mt. Tamalpais State Park.”
Cory knew he probably didn’t need say all that – the camera’s date stamp function would show up in the recording, but he felt the need to at
least say something at this fantastic, historic moment. A bit of narrative wouldn’t hurt – after all, he’d be famous after this. The weird,
white craft skittered among the treetops ahead, just out of reach.
Within a few minutes, Cory’s aching legs forced him to walk, and then to stop altogether. His heart galloped in his chest, and his lungs felt as if
they would explode at any moment. He broke into a series of brutal coughs as the drone slowly reversed direction, hovered overhead, and then zipped
away once again beyond the treetops. “Oh, no you don’t!” Cory gasped, and pushed onward.
Though his weary muscles protested the unwelcome exertion, his spirit soared with satisfaction and pride. The brief footage he’d already captured
would, by itself, land him an interview on the evening news, and if he could manage to get just a little more...hell, he’d probably be chatting with
Larry King by the end of the week. Maybe some big-time producer would even do a movie about it! Cory tried to image which actor they’d pick to play
him. Leonardo DeCaprio? No, much too young. How about Antonio Banderas, or Vin Diesel? Yeah, definitely Vin Diesel.
He staggered after the drone for half a mile, until sheer exhaustion brought him to a stop once again. “Must...take...a break.” He fell backward
onto the cool, moist dirt of the trail and lay there, recovering from the chase. Maybe it’s time to go back on those diet milkshakes, he
thought. It wouldn’t hurt to lose a few pounds. A big grin spread across his face. So what if his boss fired him? The rights to his footage
would be worth millions. Besides, he’d be too busy for work now anyway, with all the autographs he’d be signing.
As he lay on the trail, the sunlight gradually faded away, and the temperature began to drop. A thick fog began to settle over the forest. Cory sat
up, taking in the static stillness of his environment, the eerie silence. A chill ran up his spine. He’d spent nearly the entire day in patient
solitude, waiting for the drone, but for some reason he’d never felt alone...until now. Cory sighed. He rose to his feet, picked up the camera, and
started back down the trail in the direction of the bridge. He’d come back tomorrow, after converting the videotape to digital and uploading it to
the website for all to see.
A few minutes later, Cory stopped. The buzzing sound had returned, only louder this time, hidden within the darkness and fog. He’d thought to bring
a flashlight, but had left it inside his daypack, back at the bridge. No problem. He switched on the camcorder light. Cory swept the camera about,
directing the brilliant yellow beam in all directions. “Dammit!” he cursed as the light winked out. He shook the camera and knocked his palm
against it repeatedly, until he noticed that entire device had stopped working, not just the lamp.
Cory held still amid the fog, listening to the incessant humming noise coming from the drone somewhere in the mist. As it grew louder, the air around
him began to buzz with an electric charge, making his skin tingle. For the first time he noticed the pounding in his chest and the thundering beat of
his own heart, now filled with dread. Something wasn’t right.
Suddenly, Cory stumbled and fell backward, startled by the harsh, deafening blare of a siren. He covered his ears with his hands in an effort to
dampen the intense noise. Where in God’s name was it coming from? With the camcorder still slung around his shoulder, he turned and scampered back
up the trail, away from the awful sound, screaming in terror.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Biting his lip, U.S. Army Major Giovanni Lopez gazed through the canopy of the specially-outfitted AH-6 reconnaissance helicopter, taking note of the
dark, gray blanket of fog that hung below. As night fell over the mountainside, visual identification of the target was becoming impossible, so he and
his men would have to rely on the Forward Looking Infrared(FLIR) system installed in both his helicopter and the UH-60 Blackhawk trailing close
behind. That was assuming the target hadn’t already left the area, and if that was the case, he could kiss his anticipated promotion, maybe even his
“Looks like we’ve got a hit, Sir,” said the pilot, Army First Lieutenant Henry Weinberg. He pointed to the monitor. “I could take us down into
the fog bank for a visual, but we’d be exceeding visibility requirements. It would make up for lost time, though.”
Lopez studied the chalky white figure that shone on the FLIR display. It appeared to be a man, and a stocky one at that, running parallel to the
mountainside in the direction of the beach. “No,” he said. “The signature looks human, and it’s the only one within three kilometers of where
the drone signaled the breach. He’s definitely the one.”
Entity behavior never varied, and Lopez knew it would seek out the closest available host within minutes. It could do this only once. He keyed the
microphone on his headset, opening a channel to the Blackhawk. “Yankee Two, your orders are to land on the beach and capture the host when he
arrives. We’ll maintain altitude and relay target position as he appears on infrared.”
“Roger, Yankee One. Yankee Two is descending.” With that, the olive-colored, unmarked Blackhawk broke formation and disappeared into the fog.
Lopez reached forward and unfastened the bracketed laptop computer on the center console, allowing it to swing forward. Tonight’s situation had
developed quickly; intel was sparse, and Lopez wanted to know what he’d be dealing with. His fingers rapidly keyed in a request to headquarters for
more information. Then he clicked the transmit icon on the screen, sending the encrypted message on its way.
“What about the Orpheus reconnaissance drone, Major?” Lt. Weinberg inquired. “Can’t we have CARET redirect it, have it follow the target?”
“That’s not their job.” Lopez replied. Being subject to full disclosure, he knew that CARET would have their hands full monitoring the other
ninety-seven known demonic entities. By now, the escape of even one spook would’ve incited the rest into frenzy, and only the Orpheus drone
possessed the unique capability of existing within both Hades, and the human world, at the same time. Lopez didn’t fully understand the technology
that made it possible – something to do with ancient runes and their mystical properties – and he didn’t need to. All he needed to understand
was the nature of his assignment: simply put, he was to wait until the entity completed its possession, and then capture the host.
Or kill him, if need be.
[edit on 18-8-2007 by Flatwoods]